From Reflection on Reform to Reflection on Revolution – Liang Jing

Overseas political commentator Liang Jing wrote following essay on the recent released Chinese commercial film “Assembly,” thanks to Dr. David Kelly for the translation:

Feng Xiaogang’s new film Assembly (click to watch online, with English subtitles) was a great success around the New Year. I haven’t seen it, but from interviews with Feng Xiaogang and some reviews, I understand that the film’s success is due not only to its artistic appeal, but also because Feng Xiaogang’s perspective, which enacts the civil war between Nationalists and Communists, is attractive to audiences.

Assembly tells the following story: in a battle, a group of 47 Communist troops engaged in covering operations are killed because they fail to hear an order to disperse. They were, how ever, listed as missing persons after the Communist victory. Their platoon commander, who survived, wants his sacrificed comrades in arms to be named as martyrs, but after many twists and turns, he finds that the then battalion commander had decided to make them fight to the last man, so the regroup signal that would have allowed them withdraw from battle was never sounded. There is no doubt that this story completely subverts the CPC’s consistent policy of beautifying the revolutionary war, but, strangely, Assembly passed official review. How could this be?

According to writer Liu Heng’s statement, it was due to the film director’s clever strategy. “Firstly, we don’t go into whether the war was meaningful; secondly, we don’t go into whether the sacrifice was of any value.” But I really find it difficult to believe that such a strategy of looking innocuous could really fool the Party censors.

Whether Feng Xiaogang and the censors’ motives regarding Assembly was to save souls or to make money we can’t tell, but the fact that it could play in China clearly shows how irresistible trend of rethinking the Chinese revolution has become. Assembly is a product of this trend of thought, and will add momentum to it

This was a point that Chinese intellectuals would tacitly understand. When the film was shown, some progressive scholars of influence immediately seized the chance to make the historical reflection subtly expressed in the film more deeply critical. Zhang Ming’s criticism was that Assembly did not reflect on the fratricide between Chinese people of a few decades ago, “there is no examination of human nature, no compassion for people’s helplessness in war,” while Cui Weiping criticized Feng Xiaogang’s theme of “every sacrifice is immortal”. She argued that a serious defect of Assembly was that it failed to reach the intellectual level of “each and every life being precious.” These scholars must however realize that in the Chinese discursive context, where words never fully express meaning, given the distorted mentality of the censors, what serious literary and artistic work can come into the world without serious birth defects?

With or without Feng Xiaogang’s Assembly, in 2008 Chinese people’s reflections on reform inevitably led in the direction of more in-depth examination of the revolution. This is first of all because the outcomes of 30 years of reform constitute the most merciless mockery of China, above all of those who supported and made great sacrifices for the communist revolution, by history. When he launched the reforms thirty years ago, Deng Xiaoping stated that “poverty is not socialism.” Thirty years later, given the facts of the extreme disparity between rich and poor and unprecedented official corruption in China, people cannot but ask: were the reforms in reality for the sake of greater inequality and injustice than before the revolution? Given today’s facts, why in the very beginning did tens of millions of people have to die violent deaths in the communist revolution, ultimately for the sake of expropriating the property owners of that time, only to see the red power aristocracy become the world’s most shameless men of wealth, and hundreds of millions of peasants become contemporary slave labour?

The slogan “revolution is dead, long live reform!” represented the feelings of many young people 30 years ago. Thirty years on, however, the outcomes of reforms have allowed revolution renewed opportunities. Today, if someone shouting “reform is dead, long live the revolution,” he will get a response from many young people. Renowned barefoot scholar Chen Yongmiao is the representative of this trend of thought. He recently published an article entitled “Restating a death sentence on reform.”[1] Chen’s repeatedly expounded basic idea is that the “revolution is the main element of modernity”; what China needs is re-definition of revolution, rather than continue the reform fraud.

Can China have a new revolution? Given a CPC regime lacking any capacity for self-examination or imagination, whose instincts are exclusively self-serving, the possibility of new revolution in China is obviously growing. If it occurred, what would it be like? Would China just repeat previous disasters and replay its historical tragedy? The answer to these questions will largely depend on how Chinese people today reflect on the last revolution.


* 梁京: 从反思改革到反省革命


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